Jockey Kendrick Carmouche

Kendrick Carmouche wished his fellow New York riders much success as they left to compete in the Breeders’ Cup at Keeneland during the first weekend in November. He didn’t worry about not having any mounts with which to join them on the global thoroughbred stage.

He didn’t fret because he recognized the opportunity — and was determined to capitalize on it.

With most of the star-studded jockey colony out of town, Carmouche indeed made the most of their absence by Winning with nine of 27 mounts at Aqueduct over the course of that three-day weekend, along with two runner-up finishes and a third-place effort.

“It gave us a little momentum,” said Kevin Bubser, Carmouche’s agent, “and we just ran with it.”

That momentum helped carry the 36 year-old Carmouche to his first New York Racing Association riding title. He completed the 18-day fall meet at Aqueduct on Sunday with 23 Victories, allowing him to out-distance Jose Lezcano (19 Wins) and Joel Rosario (16).

The big weekend for the affable native of Vinton, Louisiana, included his first Grade 1 Triumph, when TRUE TIMBER romped in the $250,000 dollar Cigar Mile on Saturday. Thus ending Carmouche’s 20-year quest for a Grade 1 Victory. Prior to that Win he had six Grade 2 scores in 20,376 previous starts.

Carmouche, one of the few high-profile African-American jockeys in the country, is taking time to absorb the magnitude of his back-to-back accomplishments.

“I feel like it’s not real, man,” he said. “It’s a joy not only for me but for my family, my kids, my mom, my dad. We fought hard. They stuck behind me. It feels so great. It’s just awesome, man.”

Carmouche registered the first of more than 3,300 Victories twenty years ago. He is best known for having Won seven riding titles at Parx Race Track in Bensalem, Pennsylvania, from 2008 to 2011. That streak gained him induction into that track’s Hall of Fame in 2015.

Although Carmouche always will appreciate his days at Parx, he knows there is nothing quite like succeeding in New York. “I had a lot of titles at Philly Park, but this last one (at Aqueduct) is special,” he said. “I’ve done it in the Big Apple. That means a whole lot, man. That means a whole, whole lot.

“This is what life is about — opportunity. And you’ve got to be ready to seize the opportunity at hand.”

The riding colony in New York is, arguably, the best in the world. The group is headed by all-time leading earner John Velazquez as well as Irad Ortiz Jr. Ortiz set the single-season record with more than $34 million in earnings when he Won a second consecutive Eclipse Award as North America’s leading jockey in 2019.

“You better be ready when you come to ride with these guys,” Carmouche said. “It ain’t no joke. The colony in New York is very, very tough.”

The Grade 1 and the riding title are particularly meaningful because they signify that he has made it all the way back from a horrific accident at Kentucky Downs in September 2018. He fractured his right leg so severely that noted orthopedic surgeon Dr. Philip Kregor compared the extensive damage to something that might have occurred in an explosion.

Carmouche underwent more than four hours of surgery to repair the leg. His arduous rehabilitation program lasted six months.

Through it all, Carmouche stayed mentally strong. “You can’t worry about what you ain’t got,” he said. “You’ve got to worry about what you can get.”

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